Scotland, Day 6 Juteopolis

While the plan had been to go castle hopping today, the weather took a wee bit of a turn, and it was raining snow.  Cold to the bone-chilling cold.  Lucy, Kiki, and I went museum hopping in Dundee instead.  Three museums:  The Verdant Jute Museum, the MacManus Museum, and the new V & A Design Museum.

The jute industry was the heart of the city of Dundee.  In the late 19th century, over 54,000 people were employed in the industry.  The featured image shows a map of the trade in jute.  Dundee was known as Juteopolis.  In 1901 it was at the very height of its power and was a bustling international city with people from Russia, India, the United States, Germany, and Poland.  Merchants travelled back and forth between Dundee and the Indian subcontinent.

The raw material was imported from Calcutta and processed in Dundee.  It was the women and young children that were used in the mills, and it was the women in charge of the pay packets.  In the 1860s, the jute barons of Dundee had set up jute mills on the Indian subcontinent because labour was so cheap.  By 1901, the processing of jute was in decline in Dundee and in 1947 at India’s independence, no more jute was shipped to Scotland.  A few years later, in 1912, the whaling industry died.  So many whales had been killed that the industry was no longer profitable.  I was surprised to learn that it was whale oil that made the jute fibres so soft, like cashmere.  In 1914, the Scots raised their own local battalion, the 4th Black Watch and went off to fight for British imperialism.  It was the first time that many of the men in Dundee had work.

In 1863 the average life expectancy of someone living in the country around Glamis was 60 years.  It was 33 years in Dundee.  The infant mortality rates in Dundee had one in every three children dying before their first birthday.  Infant suffocation was five times greater in Dundee than in Glasgow in the 1880s.  The people in Dundee were either impoverished workers or jute barons with a middle class that was pushing for religious and drink reforms.  The Temperance Union was growing.  But the reality of life was so bleak that most turned to drink.  Babies and young children were given ‘bread meat’ which was bread soaked in a cup of water with a wee bit of milk added and a little sugar.  As a consequence, people were malnourished and did not grow.  Notice the size of the children playing with the hydrant.  The doll with its porcelain face was imported and would have been owned by the children of the wealthy jute barons of the city.

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The museum is staffed by volunteers who give the most amazing tours.  They talk about the life of the workers in the mill and the clerks in the office.  The clerks had full-time work and were paid regularly although they did not make much more than those on the floor.  The mill workers were paid by the piece of work they completed that day.  Others gave tours on the different kinds of jute, the history of the mills in Dundee, and the social impact of working at the mill and the class differences in the city.  The entrance fee is 11 GBP and includes a visit to the Discovery.  If you ask they will give you a card that is good for visits to the museum for an entire year.  The cafe was very reasonable, much more so than any of the other we visited and the sandwiches and soup were quite good.  I highly recommend a trip to this museum, children included, if you come to Dundee. Below are some pictures of the various areas of the museum.

The jute dress is what the women working in the mills would wear pre-wedding.  I can’t possibly imagine how scratchy it must have been.

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This is what the men would put on their backs so that they could carry the big bales of jute.  If you look closely at the bottom of the image, you will see a man with one of these on his back.

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The mills of Dundee provided sails for the ships, tents for the army, flour sacks, covers for the wagons heading West in the United States, sacks and bags for all manner of things, including linoleum.

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This is an image of where the clerks would work.  They were required to work standing up all day.  Notice the female secretary on the left is seated at her desk!

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One of the newer looms that allowed for weaving to take place.

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Our guide did not tell us the name of this piece of equipment for the looms. Initially, the women were in charge of two looms.  They were paid for piece work which meant if they had to go to the toilet they had to stop their looms.  The looms were also connected to clocks to check for efficiency.  This device allowed the looms to continue working when the operator had to leave for a few minutes.  When the owners discovered this, they put the women in charge of SIX looms!  Dundee eventually comes one of the most organised labour cities in England.  In fact, Winston Churchill was elected as a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party and turned Tory.  He was subsequently voted out and had to run elsewhere.IMG_2667

Tomorrow I will take you on a tour of the MacManus Museum.

Tip for those travelling to Scotland.  May and June are the best times to come.  It is too cold in March and is nice and warm by May.  After the end of June, the bugs are so bad that they can almost drive one mad.  Thanks, Lizzie for that insight.  Also, if you go out into the country, away from the tourist spots, your trip will be much more economical.

Hospitalfield, Day 4

It is 10 degrees C with bright sun in Arbroath this morning.  Hospitalfield House is cosy and inviting.  The light streams through the windows warming up the entire area of the building on the east side.  I had a lovely walk in the gardens this morning after breakfast.  I am so impressed with the staff at Hospitalfield and the friendliness of the Scots.  I feel completely blessed being here and while I came to do ceramics my interest has been consumed by the objects in the collection and some of the books in the library, such as The Art Journal, from the 19th century that are not available to me in Winnipeg.  In talking with one of the other residents, Allan, who had ten new creative ideas yesterday, I am not allowing my academic identities collide.  That said, having done graduate work in the history of sculpture, several of the pieces in the collection of Hospitalfield have caught my interest.  Thank goodness that pouring my moulds allows me the time to pursue both interests – history and art and that I have given myself permission to slide back into the historical.  Often students struggle with their course projects because they have a ‘fixed’ idea of what they want at the end.  Hospitalfield is a place that allows you to take a different path if you find yourself on it.  That is one of the other reasons that I am thrilled that this is not just a ceramics residency.

It is fabulous getting e-mails from some of you that read my blog.  It is difficult to know if anything is of interest to anyone, so thank you.

We are slowly moving through Hospitalfield House now that more information is becoming available about the contents and uses of the rooms.  The next room down the hall on the first floor is the anteroom.  This is where Patrick Allan-Fraser met with his clients to discuss commissions.  According to our guide, ‘it was cheaply done’.  In 1877, the walls were covered with the first commercially available wallpaper.  To make the embossed designs to try and replicate the 17th century embossed leather that we saw in the dining room, the manufacturers mixed woodflour and linseed oil and applied it to linen which was then adhered to the wall and could be painted.   The wallpaper is still made in Lancaster; it is used for renovations to the walls of these stately homes.  The arrival of cheap wall coverings completely wiped out the plaster industry in England.

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This room also had gasoliers at each side of the fireplace.  A gasolier is typically a chandelier with gas burners rather than light bulbs or candles.  In some cases in Hospitalfield, they are wall-mounted or there is one, designed like a torch, on the grand staircase.

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The anteroom also contains an unusual sculpture carved in marble by George Simmons.  The title is Cupid with a Panther.  There are pictures of Cupid Riding a Panther on 1st-century Roman walls but I have come up against a wall trying to find out about the artist, George Simmons and this particular piece.  If you know anything at all, please write and let me know.

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Behind the door in the anteroom is a picture by Francesco Francia of St Lucy with Madonna and Child.  Francia was from Bologna.   St Lucy has a very interesting legend.  She is considered to be very brave.  She grew up in Syracuse and lost her life during the early 4th century when Christians were being persecuted.  She is well known as a defender of the Christian faith.  One legend says that Lucy wanted to give her life to the service of the Church but her mother tried to arrange a marriage for her with a pagan.  Lucy learning of this devised a plan to get her mother to change her mind. She prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha who told her that her mother was ill and that her sickness would be only cured through having faith.  Lucy was to try and persuade her mother to give her dowry money to the poor and allow her to become a nun.  Lucy’s mother was grateful but the bridegroom became very angry and reported Lucy and her strong religious convictions to the local governor, Paschasius.  He ordered Lucy to be defiled by the guards.  But the guards could not move her when they came to take her.  They even tried hitching her to a team of oxen and dragging her.  But it was to no avail.  Then they tried to burn her.  At last, they took their swords and put out her eyes.  That was how she died.  When her body was prepared for burial, everyone discovered that her eyes had been restored.  In pictures, she is shown holding a dish containing her eyes.  You can see it in this painting.

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The ‘real gems’ of the house are the two rooms in the west wing.   We will look at one of those today.

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The central feature of the largest room is a marble fireplace carved by James Christie.  The three allegorical figures, from left to right are Peace, Plenty, and Prosperity.  Other details include strawberries and parrots from the coat of arms of the two families.  The central figure, a cupid with both hands under his chin,  was a later addition.  Can you see the parrots and strawberries?  The fireplace still works today and provides warmth to a room that does not start being warmed by the sun until later in the morning.  Because of all of the wood and the tapestries in the house, in addition to all of the pictures, the blinds are generally pulled.

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There was a huge interest in fossils and stones.  A large piece of Jasper was found on the shore near the house and was turned into a table.

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Tomorrow we will talk about the woodwork above the arches, the picture commissions in the room, and then we will take a tour of the harp room with its many curiosities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hospitalfield, Day 3

Each of us, at breakfast, seemed to have settled in.  Everyone has adjusted to keeping warm and many of us threw off covers during the night.  The wind off the North Sea subsided and we woke to glorious blue skies.  Today, was an opportunity to stop thinking about being creative and to enjoy a tour of the library and the house with Alasdair Sutherland.  I learned so much that it was impossible to keep track of everything but today, I will begin writing about the ‘true’ history of Hospitalfield and not that contained in many accounts.  Alasdair gave us insight into the reasons for the carvings, the history of the pictures in the collection as they related to the Fraser family, and showed us some amazing books including the account books of the woodcarver whose work decorates the house.  To not overwhelm you, this will be done in instalments!  The house is the history of the Parrot family from Hawkesbury Hill in Coventry and the Fraser family.

The original building was called Hospitalfield but it was because it was a place to receive pilgrims arriving to go to St John the Baptist Abbey. — ‘hospitality’  A statue on the front of the house is original to the medieval era.  It was only later a place for those ill with leprosy and the plague.

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Patrick Allan’s family did not really want him to be an artist.  Not much different today, parents afraid their children wanting to be artists will be impoverished all of their lives.  His family did apprentice him with his grandfather who was a very skilled draftsman.  He then goes to art school in Edinburgh where he specialises in portraits.  From there he went to Rome where he made a very successful career selling drawings and pictures to people on the Grand Tour.  It is in Rome that he will meet some other painters and sculptors who will become his lifelong friends and will supply work for the rooms here at Hospitalfield.  In 1841, he set up a successful portrait business in London and traveled back and forth to Paris.  Patrick Allan becomes one of the founders of a group of artists, The Clique, in the late 1830s.  The group was known for their rejection of academic art and embracing genre scenes.  They also had a great disdain for the Pre-Raphalite Brotherhood, more of that later this week!

In 1842, Patrick Allan was approached by Robert Cadell, an Edinburgh publisher, who wants him to produce illustrations for Walter Scott’s Antiquity, which I mentioned the last post.  Patrick Allan did create the work but, according to our guide, not that enthusiastically.   Our guide today also said that there is no shred of evidence that Scott’s novel was based on people and places in Arbrough or that Hospitalfield was Monkbarns.  It is a myth that has been perpetuated (even by me yesterday).  While he is in Arbroath working on this series, he meets a widow, Elizabeth, whom he married in 1843.  Elizabeth will inherit all of the Hawkesbury estates in 1883.  Below are three large oil portraits painted by Patrick Allan-Fraser on the left, Elizabeth, his wife, on the right, and her mother in the middle.  The bottom picture is an image of Elizabeth holding her favourite cat painted by Patrick.

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I would like to draw your attention to the material on the wall behind the portrait of Elizabeth.  It is the most beautiful 17th-century Dutch embossed leather and was all the rage when the couple were renovating the house.  The room that these images are in was the original entrance hall of the James Fraser House.  One other curiosity about this room is the installation of gasoliers, gas lighting.  It was trendy and a status symbol, just like the imported leather wall panels.  They, however, did a lot of damage to the ceilings and objects in various rooms within the house with the fumes.  This was compounded by the soot from the candles and the coal that was used.

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The fireplace was shown at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations of 1851 at Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851.  The models of all of the various items that could be purchased could also be bought.  That is how the fireplace wound up in Hospitalfield.

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The beautiful wood carving through the original Hall and then the dining room was done by a local carver, James Hutchinson.   His work can be seen throughout the house including the framing of the triple portraits.  Below is a detail.

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The Drawing Room features two 17th century tapestries that Patrick acquired in Bruges.  The Room was decorated in 1870 when cedar was used to cover all of the walls to protect the fabrics from moths.  The room is the earliest example of the Scottish Arts and Crafts Movement.  The intent, through the subjects of the tapestries, was to link the inside of the house with the outside environment.  The ceiling has 197 different plant carvings found on the property.  It was done by a local carver, David Maver, who was paid seven pence an hour.  Hospitalfield has the complete book of his accounts.  Some of the ceiling carvings took up to one hundred hours.  Maver later moved to New York where he made a name for himself carving for the grand houses along the Eastern seaboard.

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Other images of the tapestries in the Drawing Room.  Because of their age, the light from the windows is curtained off.  The brilliance of living a room with cedar to protect artworks at that time was quite impressive. Other cabinets within the house are made of solid cedar and lined with camphorwood to safeguard the beautiful clothes of the women.

Tomorrow I will give you a tour of three more rooms in this great house.

The winds are still down, and the sun is shining brightly in Arbroath.  Any artist seriously looking for a place to do a residency should seriously consider Hospitalfield.  They have a small dedicated staff.  The costs are reasonable and if you take public transportation – and not rent a car – you will really only have to bring your supplies.  For some of the writers this March, that has meant only pens and paper!

 

Hospitalfield House, Day 2

Another introduction to this amazing ‘house’.  There are nine of us in residence at this amazing artist centre in Arbroath, Scotland.  This morning we spent some time in the study introducing ourselves and our projects to find that our interests were, as one of my colleagues noted, intertwined together.  It is going to be a very productive time.  That said, Simon, the cook has continually pulled off amazing meals.  We were happy to find out tonight that the idea of a Hospitalfield cookbook is in the works.  He has managed to juggle each of our needs into amazing meals made with local produce.  Not to say it too loud but we could all leave having gained a wee bit of weight.

Hospitalfield House has a long history.  It was built by a group of Tironesian monks in the 13th century.  At the time it was the Hospital of St. John the Baptist and was home to those persons with leprosy and the plague.  I have mentioned that before.  In 1665, the Fraser family took over the property.  Wikipedia informs us that Walter Scott stayed here in 1803 and again in 1809.  The beautiful stone buildings inspired the model for his Monkbarns in his novel The Antiquary which he finished in 1816.   In the middle of the  19th century, Hospitalfield House came into the hands of Patrick Allan-Fraser, a son of a local weaving merchant, who seems to have enlarged the property.    {He acquired the property through his marriage to Elizabeth}, He was a major patron of the arts and a painter himself had studied in Edinburgh.  He was held in high esteem and was elected to be President of the British Academy in Rome.  It is well known that he did a series of paintings to illustrate a volume of Scott’s The Antiquary.  He refurbished rooms, hired some of the best local artists and craftspeople, gave enormous commissions and acquired more objects for the collection.  A five-storey bartizan, which is a type of cantilevered turret,  and another large wing.  It is described as an Arts and Crafts House.  In the collection are objects including desks with the most exquisite inlay, ceramics, tapestries, and books.

 

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We will get a real tour of the library and the collections later on.  The priceless objects are locked away but we are allowed to access them for study.  I am really keen to see the other ceramics as the ones scattered about indicate a keen interest in Japanese work.

For now, the thing that brings us here today is the fact that he set up the Patrick Allan-Fraser of Hospitalfield Trust to support young artists.  The couple had no children and when Allan-Fraser died, he bequeathed the entire property and its contents “for the promotion of Education in the Arts” on the death of Allan-Fraser in 1890.  Here is an image of the outside of the studios and a few into the interior of the one I am sharing with my new friend, Lucy Barlow from London.

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Today, Hospitalfield is internationally renowned as a centre for the arts.  The Trust has spent its money wisely refurbishing various rooms and many of the original musical instruments in the building including the harpsichord and the harp.  There is an annual harp festival and I am told that there are Jazz musical events in the building periodically.  Indeed one is coming up next week!

Like every other arts centre, money needs to come in to support this as a place of contemporary ideas in the arts.  The staff is small but energetic and passionate.  The beautiful gardens outside my window are getting ready to be levelled.  A new garden designer has been hired and in May the place will be in full bloom.  There are also greenhouses to be refurbished and a new very modern residence with ten bedrooms and kitchenettes will be built.  At the same time, they plan to restore the Victorian walled gardens and the glass house.  They will also restore the fernery.  It is an 18th-century feature and is the only one of its kind on the east coast of Scotland.

Arrived at Arbroath and Hospitalfield House

From my window in one of the most historic bedrooms at Hospitalfield, I can see the North Sea.  To get there, one only has to walk through the garden, full of blooming daffodils and crocus.

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The photographs provided by Hospitalfield show the amazing exterior of this medieval building, but it is the interior spaces that give you that ‘wow, oh my goodness’ moment.  Built in the 13th century, the warren of rooms was home to the people who had leprosy and the plaque….hence, the name Hospitalfield.  Right now, it is both home and inspiration to the nine or ten of us who are here as interdisciplinary artists from various places including Brooklyn, London, Glasgow, Holland, and Newcastle, Great creative people.

Cicely Farrer wrote to us and told us that it is both cold outside and cold inside this old stone building,.  She is right.  It is cold to the bones which, in some way, has a connection with the SHEEP that are everywhere and the wool industry.  Did I forget my wool jumper from Ireland just so I could get a new one from here?  Did I really?!  But, for those who are thinking of travelling to Scotland, the first word that comes to mind is SHEEP.  There are more sheep in Scotland than there are people.  Did you know that?  And some of those sheep are even orange!

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This is the first residency that I have been on in more than 30 years.  It feels like a first time because everything is that much more different.  There is a fantastic chef here named Simon who cooked us pilaf, a chicken curry, slaw with Nigella seeds, and his homemade flatbread.  This was followed by a chocolate brownie with real whipped cream and a raspberry coulis.  It is nice to be taken care of and not having to think about anything – a mantra that seems to be on everyone’s mind.

So this is the four posters historic bedroom at Hospitalfield that is mine for two weeks.

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Some of you might recall that I was given a -37 degree C sleeping bag.  It will definitely come in handy tonight!  It makes me appreciate all of those big two-story frame farmhouses in Manitoba and all their small rooms and doors. Apparently to keep the warm in.

Here are some other views of the inside hallways.  The wood is beautiful.  Some of the private rooms have coffered wood ceilings and carved wooden walls.  I fear that they would crack in the dry cold of Manitoba,

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Scotland is on many of your bucket lists.  It is a gorgeous country with vast open spaces.  That is one of the single reasons that Scotland is a favoured tourist destination for the Chinese.  The tops of the Highland hills have snow on them today. March is chilly.  The great houses open in April.  You should come after April 1 if you can.

And if you do come, you need to start planning in advance and check out all of your options.  From Canada, for example, I found out that you can fly from Halifax to Glasgow.  Other places even land in Dundee, but the majority of travellers I am told begin their journey in London.  It is easy to get to Scotland from London King’s Cross; it takes about five hours, and if you book at least 5 to 6 weeks in advance with NLER you can get a much-discounted ticket.  Most everyone I know automatically thinks about renting a car.  If you absolutely need to, plan, so you only need to for a short period.  It isn’t the cost of the daily car fee that is so expensive.  It is the cost of insurance.  The price per day of full coverage with Europcar is 37 GBP.  At the moment it is 1 GBP to 2 CDN.  While the daily rental might seem insignificant, insurance can add up.  Figure it out before you travel.

If you decide to go ahead and rent a car then make the most of it!  This means not travelling on the motorways – at least as much as you can,  Wandering off to find small villages with quaint shops and local food is part of the fun.  And do check out the local fare.  To give you an idea of what fast food costs in Scotland and an excellent reason to stay away from it, I can tell you that a Burger King Jr Whopper meal is 7.14 GBP or $14.28 CDN.  Thank goodness the chef at Hospitalfield House is so amazing.

Cosmic Joke?

I was so looking forward to getting out of snowy Winnipeg that I couldn’t think of anything but green grass, lochs, dramatic hills, daffodils, and Scottish shortbread.  The weather reports were for ‘rain, rain, and rain’.  That chill to the bone cold is something that we got used to I was a student at the University of Leicester.  And speaking of Leicester, I was going to get to connect with one of my friends from that era, Hazel, from the Shetland Islands now working for Scottish Museums.  Our original plan was to walk through the Old Town part of the city with its cobblestones, public statuary, and beautiful stone buildings.  The icy wind and rain meant that we shifted from one sitting spot to another during the course of the morning.  Our first stop was for tea and scones (OK, Hazel had an elephant-shaped piece of shortbread).

The Elephant House is located in the old part of the city.  It is easy to find and any local can give you directions because this lovely boutique cafe claims to be one of the cafes where J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter.

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The Elephant Cafe is one of a few coffee and tea shops that Rowling visited with her baby daughter so that she could write.

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Rowling is a true rags to riches individual.  As a single mom struggling on welfare in Edinburgh, she had, of course, no idea that two decades later people would travel to Edinburgh to visit the sites of her stories.  Rowling’s home was full of books and from a very young age, she wanted to be a writer.  Her website says that she wrote her first book at the age of six called ‘Rabbit’ while she finished her first novel five years later at the age of eleven.  Rowling went on to University, spent a year in Paris while she was a student and eventually marries a man from Portugal.  But, in 1995, that marriage fell through and she returned to Edinburgh only for her mother to die shortly after.  In the midst of two tragic events, the divorce and the death, Rowling took the skills she had learned in her Classics courses and set about to finish a book that she had started years before.

In 1990 on a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross, she conceived the idea for the Harry Potters series.  She built up the outline for the series of seven books on odd pieces of papers.  In 1997, Bloomsbury Children’s Books published the first of the seven books.  For many, it is like a fairy tale and it is easy to see from all of the shops selling Harry Pottery memorabilia that the books continue to have a great following.  If you travel to Edinburgh, you can go on the Harry Potter tours.  But if you just want a great scone or shortbread and a pot of British tea, then step into the Elephant House Cafe.  One bit hint, this is a very popular bistro cafe amongst the locals as well and tables at the normal busy times of day can mean a lineup.

We then spent our time catching up on our lives for the past two decades sitting amongst the Titians at the National Gallery.  What a beautiful gallery.  It was Valesquez’s Old Woman Cooking Eggs that caught my attention after the colossal images by Gainsborough with fabrics you can reach out and touch – it sure feels that way.  The Museums in Scotland are free admission and those in Edinburgh are located within walking distance of one another.  If you stay in this part of the City, you never have to hire a taxi but you can simply walk from one venue to another with ease.

There are a number of ways to get to Edinburgh.  In fact, this trip taught me a lot.  If you live in Canada, you can fly via Halifax to Glasgow with WestJet Airlines.  You can also fly to Edinburgh via either London Gatwick or London Heathrow.  When I booked, Gatwick was the cheapest option.  Then you take the Thameslink to London San Pancreas International.  The return ticket is 21 GBP.  Today that is roughly $42 CDN.  It takes about 40 minutes.  In San Pancreas you can find some lovely food shops – much better in my opinion from those at King’s Cross.  Then you take the LNER train to Edinburgh.  Now here is also a big tip:  If your train is delayed by 30 minutes you will get some compensation.  If it is delayed by an hour you can get the entire cost of the ticket refunded.  My train was 78 minutes late in arriving.  Bingo!

Edinburgh is a very cultural city and there are festivals throughout the summer.  Most of the big manor houses or even Balmoral Castle allow for visitors.  They open April 1.  There are even cottages to let on the grounds of Balmoral Castle.

I am leaving for Arbroath tomorrow instead of today.  The snow is tapering off and melting so I have hope that the 8 degrees C is for real.

 

 

 

How great was this? Grace Han is my teacher and it is so much fun being a student.

I want to publicly thank Grace Han.  She has helped me immensely as I complete the final preparations for my residency in Scotland.  Gosh, it has been so long since I was a student that it was wonderful learning something entirely new.  Well, I shouldn’t say altogether new.  I did make some very simple moulds so many years ago that I don’t even want to think about it.  It was fun being a student again – energising was a word that Grace used a lot, and I agree.  How fortunate I am.

My interdisciplinary arts project is about transience.  One aspect of it also questions current ceramics education and making and its impact on the environment.  The conceptual basis for the proposal was strong and was a 180-degree turn from my previous practice making functional domestic ware.  I no longer do this.  There are fabulous potters in every province of Canada that make beautiful wheel thrown vessels that enliven my life every day.  I do not need to add to this.  It is time to look at ceramics production differently.

My original intention was to rent a potter’s wheel and make my ovoid bottles, to apply slip capturing the landscape at various times of day, and to place the unfired pieces along the coast of the North Sea, from Arbroath to Aberdeen.  But I could not rent a wheel.  The obvious next step was to make a mould and slip cast the bottles.  It has been some thirty years since I had lessons in mould making and, at the time, the instruction was not that good.  Enter Grace Han.   If you do not know who Grace Han is you can look back through my blogs but in a nutshell:  Grace Han is from Korea where she is one of the only women to make Onngi.  She is so good at mould making also that her professor in Korea always hired her as his assistant because of these talents.   How fortunate I am to have this energetic and highly creative person willingly gave up over six hours of her, time to instruct me in the process and to make sure that the mould I am taking to Scotland is perfect so that my residency is successful.

If anyone reading this thinks mould making is easy, it is not.  Whatever my perceptions were before we started working last night, it was clear after a couple of hours that only individuals with a great deal of patience and attention to detail would be successful.  Like all things with ceramics, you either learn patience or you move on to something else.  It is like the last 150 degrees C in wood firing.  You have to take the time to make sure that you gave it your all and pushed the energy out of those last bits of wood.

A lot of mould making is about precise measurements and bubbles.

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When I was a student at Oklahoma State University, students in the sculpture class were, on the first day, given a 25 lb bag of plaster and a bucket.  No instructions were given, but if the plaster hardened in the pail, you were asked to leave the class.  We all failed that day.  Grace’s taught me the ratio of water to gypsum; how to slowly stir the plaster once it had all settled into the water in order not to create bubbles.  By the time the third batch of plaster was being mixed, I thought I had aced it.  — Believe me when I say that it also helps not to get overconfident!  Grace took the bowl and carefully tapped the sides.  She was smiling.  You would have thought there was a heat vent like those on the floor of the ocean with all the bubbles rising to the surface.  Remember I said:  lots of patience.  The bubbles are scooped out with a big spoon and placed on the top of the glass.  Little by little they disappear.

The other bubbles have to do with the mould soap.  For those of you that do not know, you must apply a substance to keep the plaster from sticking to your original form (unless you are using raw clay).  It was unclear if the mould soap would work on the unglazed part of my bottle.  Three coats worked.  Grace has no special brush for doing this, merely a man’s shaving brush!  Whirling it around until the bubbles form and then they are wiped off.  This time you want those bubbles!

Grace Han looked more than once at the ovoid bottle I wanted to cast.

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In the end, the final mould required as many as five separate pieces with keys to lock them in place.  Grace used some high quality self-supporting flexible plastic sheets that she purchases in Korea to form the sleeve around the form.  IMG_2157

Looking down into the mould, five hours later, there are only two more pieces to cast:  the last one for the main form and the top.  Look carefully, and you can see the keys.

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Once everything is cast, you are left with something that looks like a ridiculous hat or a weird cake with its royal icing sans decorations.  To remove the original form, you have to carefully grate away the plaster until you can find the keys and the sides to each piece of the mould.

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Then with a rubber mallet, you begin tapping.  In the end, we did not need to break the original form.  It came away nicely.  The edges of all of the parts were bevelled so that you can easily take them away or put them together.  Then the whole thing is secured with the largest rubber bands I have seen and allowed to cure.  By the time I leave for Scotland, it will be dry enough for me to make my ovoid bottles.

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I am so very grateful for the kindness and patience that my former student gave to me as her student.  It is the best of all worlds when we can openly learn from one another, sharing ideas and processes without hesitation.  I know that my residency will be much more successful because of Grace Han’s generous giving of her time.  I will miss seeing her on my return.  Grace Han will be doing a six-month residency at Medalta.  She is currently preparing for a group exhibition at the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery in Waterloo, Ontario, a show curated by my colleague, Grace Nickel.  If you live near Waterloo, check out the events on the gallery’s website and go over and have a look at the four or five large onngi that Grace Han has created.